Social innovation in the shadow of policy failure: Energy efficiency in self-build housing

Matt Lane, Dan Van Der Horst, Margaret Tingey, Connor Smith, Janette Webb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The United Kingdom has been a slow adopter of energy efficiency measures in domestic buildings. Ambitions to ensure that new homes are built to ‘zero carbon’ standards have been expressed by policy makers but subsequent targets have been abandoned. In the UK housing sector, the high costs of land, the stagnating delivery of affordable new-built homes, and market dominance by a handful of high-volume housebuilders limit progress towards lower carbon newbuild homes. Against this backdrop, the paper seeks to examine the emergence of a supposedly ‘alternative’ sub-sector. Inspired by pioneering initiatives in countries like Germany and the Netherlands, a handful of self-build projects have emerged in the UK. Through the analysis of two in depth case studies, Bath street in Edinburgh and Graven Hill in Oxfordshire, we find that self-build projects can not only deliver more diverse and bespoke homes, but also more energy efficiency. Our analysis therefore unpicks their success stories vis-à-vis the inefficiencies of speculative house building where the adoption of national policies on zero carbon homes has been resisted. Framing the emergence of these self-build projects in the UK as social innovation, we identify the physical, conceptual and affective spaces for system change that are opened up by our case studies. We subsequently reflect on the key roles played by intermediaries, including local authorities, in the potential facilitation and mainstreaming of self-build approaches to delivering more energy efficient homes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)180-189
JournalGlobal Transitions
Publication statusPublished - 4 Sep 2020


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